I’ve been researching William Elbourne Atkins who is the father of Kate Atkins. Kate is the mother of my biological grandfather, the one I never knew. William was born in Chesham, Buckingham. An Ancestry tree had his mother’s name, Hannah Atkins, but nothing on his father. So I ordered the birth registration in from General Records Office in England to find out who William’s father is. Well, the birth registration lists his mother but not a father. William was illegitimate! My first time researching a child born out of wedlock. That’s exciting, now I get to try to find his father.
Since William was born in June 1861, my first step is to find more information on Hannah by checking out the 1861 census. This census was taken about 2 months before William is born. In this census, Hannah is listed as the head of household; she has an 11 year old daughter, and get this, there is a 31 year old male lodger living with her and his name is Thomas Elbourne. Does his last name not suggest that William “Elbourne” Atkins is his son?
An expert in English genealogy confirmed my theory. She said it was common to give an illegitimate child the last name of the father as a middle name. However, since the couple wasn’t married when William was born, he would always have his mother’s maiden name as a surname. Hannah and Thomas Elbourne eventually married 6 months after William was born. But since Hannah wasn’t married when her son was born, he would always be William Atkins.
William is not Hannah’s first child born out of wedlock. In 1851, she is unmarried and has a one year old daughter named Sarah. She is living with her elderly parents, William and Sarah, at 20 Duck Alley in Chesham, Buckingham, England. Her father had been a farm labourer but at the age of 81 he can’t do much work so is on parish relief. Hannah works as a straw plaiter. In this occupation women and children prepared straw to be made into hats and ornaments.
My first experience researching the father of an illegitimate child was exceptionally easy. It’s not always this straight forward. I think it’s going to be harder to discover who is the father of Hannah’s daughter, Sarah.
1851 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005[ Registration district: Amersham; ED 1b;Piece: 1717;Folio: 119; Page Number: 19; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851
1861 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005; Registration district: Amersham; Sub-registration district: Chesham; ED 2e; Piece: 845; Folio: 26; Page Number: 15; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1861. Data imaged from The National Archives, London, England
For information on Straw Plaiting see; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_plaiting
Photo from Chesham Heritage Facebook Page; https://www.facebook.com/pg/CheshamHeritage/photos/?tab=album&album_id=583692001780762